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Baptism and Communion - Two "Ordinaces" Christ left us with.
For two thousand years, all Christians have celebrated baptism and communion. The church is composed of all who follow Christ, and these rituals help to unify all true Christ followers in the church (Eph. 4:5).
Baptism celebrates our receiving Christ by saying "Yes!" Baptism unites us with the Body of Christ-the church. In baptism, we're immersed in water-buried-to show the death of an old life where Self is king. Then we're lifted out of the water-resurrected-to show the birth of a new life where Christ is Lord. In this way we are baptized into the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13). Want to learn more on baptism?
Communion celebrates the ongoing unity of Christians in the Body of Christ. In communion, we're invited to eat bread and wine. (The bread stands for Christ's physical body that was killed on Good Friday. The wine stands for his blood-symbolizing that he gave his life for our spiritual healing.) When we eat the bread and wine, we experience God's spiritual presence. We experience a close spiritual oneness with Christ, we meditate on the price Jesus paid to forgive our sins, and we look forward to meeting with him in heaven.
It's critical to understand what these rituals can and can't do. Some people think that baptism and communion can create or give us forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Some churches teach or imply that a spiritual blessing comes through an outward physical act, even when there's no inward transformation. These churches often use the word 'sacrament' to describe the idea that these rituals somehow bestow God's saving grace.
These practices don't in any way bring or create forgiveness of sin, eternal life, or salvation. The Bible clearly teaches that rituals don't save (see I Sam. 15:22; Ps. 51:16-17; Gal. 2:14-16). Salvation requires two things: first, God offers forgiveness by his grace, and second, we respond by repenting (confessing and turning from sin) and trusting Christ (saying "Yes!" to following Christ). Someone who rebels against God-who sits firmly on the throne of his own life-doesn't receive a gift of salvation or eternal life by going through rituals. These ceremonies aren't magic tricks that provide us benefits while leaving us unchanged inside. For Christians, these practices do help us on our spiritual journeys. They reinforce and build up our faith. But they can't turn us into followers of Christ-if we've never said "Yes!" to Christ.
Because these acts don't give us grace in any way, we describe them as 'ordinances.' This word emphasizes that these are things Christ commanded us to do (Mt. 28:19-20; Mt. 26:26-29), for the word 'ordinance' refers to a command or a law. We can also call them rituals, ceremonies, or celebrations.
Baptism and communion vividly portray Christian unity. The Bible teaches that there is one baptism that unifies all true followers of Christ (Eph. 4:5). And it says that communion symbolizes participation in one body (I Cor. 10:16-17). In spite of this, various denominations practice baptism and communion somewhat differently. Although all Christian churches practice baptism and communion, they differ somewhat in how they do so.
Communion raises major issues in the church today. Four views exist on the meaning of communion. Some churches teach that the bread and wine literally and physically become the body and blood of Christ. In the communion ritual, some (the Catholic church) teach that the physical presence of the body and blood of Christ is important in order that Christ can be sacrificed again for our salvation. Others (the Lutheran church) agree that the bread and wine literally and physically become the body and blood of Christ, but without teaching that Christ is literally sacrificed again for sins. These first two views defend the physical presence of Christ in communion.
The idea that the bread and wine literally and physically become the body and blood of Christ is unbiblical and unnecessary. If Christ were sacrificed again in the act of communion, then physical presence would be necessary. But this idea (that Christ is sacrificed again in communion) contradicts the biblical teaching that Christ's death is completed once and for all (Jn. 19:30; Heb. 9:28; I Pet. 3:18). Nothing can be added to Christ's death. So physical presence is unnecessary. Because Jesus doesn't die over and over for forgiveness, pictures of the cross show it empty. Jesus Christ is risen!
There are two other views. Some believe that communion is only a memorial, a remembrance, of Christ's death. The teaching that communion is nothing more than a memorial, a teaching aid to help us remember Christ's death, is too weak. It doesn't capture the full biblical picture that Christ is present in communion in a special spiritual way.
In the final view, Christ is spiritually, but not physically, present in the bread and wine. This is the best view. Spiritually and mysteriously, Christ fills us, helping us to experience a intimate unity with him and with other Christians.
Communion is a richly textured event-like a thick tapestry-and it expresses a variety of meanings and connotations. The word 'communion' emphasizes that it is an act that draws Christ followers together in community (I Cor. 10:16-17). It's also a remembrance or memorial in that it reminds us of Christ's incredible gift of forgiveness through the cross (I Cor. 11:25). It's an opportunity to give thanks ('Eucharist' is from the Greek for "giving thanks") for what Christ has done (I Cor. 11:24). In addition, it's a proclamation, a way of telling the world about the wonders of Christ's gift at the cross (I Cor. 11:26). And finally, it's an anticipation of the completion of human history when Christ returns. We look forward to that day (I Cor. 11:26).
Christ gave two ordinances to the church, baptism and communion. Although they don't save us from sin, they're important steps-like spiritual disciplines of obedience-that we follow as part of our spiritual journeys toward knowing God.